From left: Jessica Wright, Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead and Lt. Gen. Darrell Jones testify before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel in Washington on Feb. 27. (Mike Morones / Military Times)
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The Marine Corps' three-star deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs questioned on Wednesday the analysis behind a new report suggesting the service should cut another 10,000 Marines, bluntly asking, "Where's the beef?"
Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead told Marine Corps Times that retired Adm. Gary Roughhead, who retired as chief of naval operations in late 2011, is entitled to his opinion, but the service has done significant analysis to understand the U.S.'s national security needs and determined its end strength should be 182,100 active-duty personnel.
"There's no lack of opinion in this town, especially by former flag officers that are now wearing a suit. That's his opinion, and he's certainly entitled to it," Milstead said. He continued, "If someone really wants to say that it could be 10,000 less, show me the beef. Show me the beef. Where's the analysis?"
Roughead co-authored a paper arguing that if the military makes significant changes to its structure and priorities, the Corps could fulfill its role as the nation's "forced-entry and initial-response capability" with far fewer bodies. The paper, which Roughead wrote with Hoover Institution fellow Kori Schake, was published this month through the independent Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
The Corps is in the midst of a four-year effort to reduce its authorized active-duty end strength from 202,100 to 182,100, although the threat of severe budget cuts has raised speculation the service could be forced to make further reductions after this year and top Marine officials have acknowledged the possibility. Current plans call for eliminating about 5,000 positions annually through 2016. Today, the Corps has about 195,000 Marines on active duty.
Roughead was not immediately available for comment. However, he discussed the paper during an appearance in Washington on Friday. The recommendation to further shrink the Corps is part of a larger proposal that would force the military to overhaul its procurement system, reduce personnel costs, and shift focus towards maritime and air operations and away from sustained ground combat.
The task of managing terrorism outside Afghanistan and Iraq has required "smaller engagements of specially trained and exceptionally lethal forces to work with affected countries," the paper said. Despite the trend, current downsizing strategy sustains an Army that is far larger than needed, Roughead and Schake suggest.
"The criticism is less true in the case of the Marine Corps, given their expeditionary nature and competence," according to the paper, "but still, the Marines' structure is too much dictated by Congress' stipulations than it is by the needs of future challenges."
The paper was published against the backdrop of sequestration, which is scheduled to trigger about $500 billion in automatic budget cuts over the next decade unless Congress finds a compromise by Friday.
Milstead told members of the House Armed Service Committee's personnel subcommittee on Wednesday that even with sequestration, the Corps will continue to respond to crises around the globe. The service, he said, is still on track to draw down in a "measured, responsible way" to 182,100 Marines by the end of fiscal 2016.
Staff writer email@example.com?subject=Question from MarineCorpsTimes.com reader">James K. Sanborn contributed to this report.